Cognitive deficits in adolescents persist for months following concussion

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

Cognitive deficits in adolescents occurring as a result of sports-related concussions can last for as long as 2 months after injury, say researchers.

They suggest that adolescents may require an extended recuperation time to completely recover executive function following concussion, and that cognitive function and attention tests can provide valuable information for physicians carrying out follow-up assessments.

"If a person goes back to the playing field without a full recovery, that person is put into great danger of being re-injured," emphasized study author Li-Shan Chou (University of Oregon, Eugene, USA) in a press statement.

"In any given season, if you suffer a concussion, the chances of your suffering a second one is three to six times higher and suffering a third is eight times higher. There are accumulations in this kind of injury. It doesn't go away easily."

Chou and team tested the attention and executive function of 20 concussed adolescents (average age 15 years) using the Attentional Network Test (ANT) and Task-Switching Test (TST), respectively, within 72 hours, 1 week, 2 weeks, 1 month, and 2 months post-injury. Most of the injuries occurred playing American football (n=15), although some occurred during soccer (n=3), volleyball (n=1), and wrestling (n=1). Twenty control adolescents of the same age were enrolled and tested at the same time intervals for comparison purposes.

At up to 2 months post-injury, the participants with concussion had significantly worse scores on the two tests compared with controls. They exhibited a 38-millisecond greater switch time on the TST and had a 34-millisecond greater reaction time for the ANT conflict effect component.

"The differences we detected may be a matter of milliseconds between a concussed person and a control subject, but as far as brain time goes that difference for a linebacker returning to competition too soon could mean the difference between another injury or successfully preparing to safely tackle an oncoming running back," co-author and fellow University of Oregon researcher David Howell told the press.

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